Now They Agree With Us

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Obama Administration

You’ll be glad to know that, twelve years too late, even most Republican presidential candidates agree the Iraq War was a mistake.

Politicians hoping to be president rarely run ahead of public opinion. So it’s a revealing moment when the major contenders for president in both parties find it best to say that 4,491 Americans and countless Iraqis lost their lives in a war that shouldn’t have been waged.

Even Mo Dowd has seen the light.

It is simply not true, as Republican presidential aspirant Scott Walker said on Friday, that “any president would have likely taken the same action Bush did with the information he had.”

That’s not giving enough credit to W. and his frothing band of Reservoir Dogs.

It took a Herculean effort of imagination, manipulation and deception to concoct “the information” that propelled the invasion, occupation and destruction of a country that had nothing to do with 9/11.

And tell us what you wrote back then to clarify matters, Mo. I’m having a hard time remembering.

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Doug’s in the Washington Post!

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Obama Administration

Here you go, folks — I flew a gyrocopter onto the Capitol Lawn to save our democracy.

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The Smarter Brother?

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Iraq War, Republican Party, The Smarter Brother

Has Jeb been having a bad week, or what? It started with Roger Simon asking if he’d been dropped on his head as a child. Today Karl Rove gingerly tip-toed around endorsing him. Gail Collins flat-out said Jeb Bush is awful.

What seems to have slipped out is that Jeb may be just as dim as his older brother George. If we hadn’t realized that before, it’s possibly because Jeb never affected a dopey Texas accent or an idiot-child smirk and learned to chew his food with his mouth closed. Otherwise …

Jeb Disaster Week began on Monday, when this happened on Fox News —

Megyn Kelly: Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?
Jeb Bush: I would’ve. And so would’ve Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would’ve almost everybody who was confronted with the intelligence they got.

I should mention that this was shortly after Jeb was reported to have told private financiers that brother George was his go-to guy on Middle East matters.

Phillip Bump provides us with the Fox News statement and all of the subsequent walkbacks and clarifications. Jeb said he hadn’t heard the question correctly, which is possible, and he thought he was being asked if going into Iraq was the right decision at the time. But even if that’s what he meant, (a) it wasn’t [*]; and (b) he then goes on and on about how the reason Iraq didn’t turn out so well was that mistakes were made after the invasion.

As the week went on, Jeb went from yes to maybe to who knows? Finally, yesterday, he said at a town hall meeting that knowing what we know now, he would not have invaded Iraq.

Many have already expressed astonishment that Jeb wasn’t better prepared for this question. Gail Collins:

The bottom line is that so far he seems to be a terrible candidate. He couldn’t keep his “I’m-my-own-man” mantra going through the spring. He over-babbled at a private gathering. He didn’t know how to answer the Iraq question, which should have been the first thing he tackled on the first day he ever considered that he might someday think for even a minute about running for president.

See also:

His dayslong bobble became the talk of Republican politics, from the campaign trail in Nevada to Washington. A group of Republican senators meeting this week on Capitol Hill were nearly incredulous that Mr. Bush did not have a better answer and joked about how many press aides he needed to respond to such a basic matter, according to a party strategist who heard the conversation.

“Jeb’s curb appeal was supposed to be experience, pedigree and smarts, and therefore ready to lead,” said one Republican senator, who insisted on anonymity to speak candidly about a presidential hopeful. “These kinds of statements plant him squarely in the middle of the primary pack — with G.O.P. voters unsure of exactly what political lessons he truly has learned.”

FYI, this week’s Fox News poll shows Jeb Bush tied for first place for the GOP nomination with Dr. Ben Carson. Walker, Huckabee and Rubio round out the top five.

Today Paul Krugman weighed in on Jeb’s Very Bad Week, and here’s just a bit:

Incredibly, Mr. Bush resorted to the old passive-voice dodge, admitting only that “mistakes were made.” Indeed. By whom? Well, earlier this year Mr. Bush released a list of his chief advisers on foreign policy, and it was a who’s-who of mistake-makers, people who played essential roles in the Iraq disaster and other debacles.

Seriously, consider that list, which includes such luminaries as Paul Wolfowitz, who insisted that we would be welcomed as liberators and that the war would cost almost nothing, and Michael Chertoff, who as director of the Department of Homeland Security during Hurricane Katrina was unaware of the thousands of people stranded at the New Orleans convention center without food and water.

In Bushworld, in other words, playing a central role in catastrophic policy failure doesn’t disqualify you from future influence. If anything, a record of being disastrously wrong on national security issues seems to be a required credential.

It’s possible Jeb’s campaign can survive, but Jeb wasn’t just supposed to be the smarter brother; he was the “serious” candidate, the one who didn’t come across as a refugee from Barnum and Bailey. I wonder how much attention he’s paid to the national mood since he left the Florida governor’s office in 2007. Has he spent the last eight years locked in a time capsule? Or was he never that sharp to begin with?

Update: Josh Marshall writes,

It is one of the key features of early 21st century political campaigns and political life in general that every political figure requires a chorus of dedicated partisans who lay down the equivalent of covering fire in their leader’s defense. Sometimes this happens with a political figure who attracts intense loyalty. But that’s seldom required. Partisans on both sides of the political divide will generally rush to the defense of almost any political figure on their team, even if the person isn’t terribly well liked or even if they’re getting grief for something that is pretty hard to defend. …  In a highly partisan, polarized political world having a chorus of defenders, with a set list of arguments and slogans is critical to survival.

Through all of this though, almost no one is standing up for Jeb or putting together arguments, no matter how silly, in his defense. He’s out there swinging in the wind, totally alone. We know that Bush is not well loved by Movement Conservatives or Tea Partiers. So in one sense this isn’t terribly surprising. But somehow there’s more to it than that. His lack of any defenders is unique to him.

On the other hand, Jeb has raised a ton of cash from the “traditional Republican donor class.” So he’s likely to stay in the race until the end, win or lose.

________

[*] See Paul Waldman, The Myth of Faulty Intelligence

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The Decline of Christianity?

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Religion

Yesterday the Pew Religion and Public Life organization released results of a survey showing that the percentage of Americans who self-identify as Christians has dropped quite a bit since 2007, from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent. As has been reported in previous surveys, most of this change has come from a decrease in the ranks of “mainline” Protestants and Catholics and an increase in “nones,” or people with no religious affiliation. This is a trend that’s been going on for a few decades. There also has been a 1.2 percent increase in non-Christian religions and a 1.5 percent increase in self-identified atheists.

The percentage of evangelicals has dropped by less than one percentage point, however, while their numbers have actually gone up a tad. So, while the percentage of Americans who are Christian is shrinking, the remaining “pool” of Christians is more conservative. IMO this is not a healthy development.

 Christianity Today argues, perhaps with justification, that “nominal” Christians — people who really aren’t religious but self-identify as “Christian” if asked — are now the “nones,” and the percentage of “convictional” Christians remains the same. Nothing has changed, CT says. However, this doesn’t explain why there’s been such a hemorrhage from the older Protestant denominations but not so much from evangelicalism. The author also admits that even evangelicalism is losing ground.

On the other hand, I’ve seen commentary from atheists crowing about the triumph of atheism. They want to claim the “nones,” or most of ‘em anyway, as their own. But Pew has said of “nones,”

… the unaffiliated are not wholly secular. Substantial portions of the unaffiliated – particularly among those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” – say they believe in God or a universal spirit. … The unaffiliated are about as likely as others in the general public to believe in reincarnation, astrology and the evil eye. And they are only slightly more likely to believe in yoga as a spiritual practice and in spiritual energy located in physical things such as mountains, trees and crystals.

The picture of the “nones” presented by Pew shows that they just aren’t keenly interested in religion, one way or another, and haven’t given it much thought, but are about as likely to believe in ghosts or homeopathy as anyone else. Atheists who are now celebrating the dawn of the New Age of Reason are being a tad premature.

And here I could insert something about whether disinterest in religion really is the same thing as atheism. An atheist is one who has decided there is no God, although he may pay lip service to having an open mind about it if “evidence” should emerge. My sense of things is that a “none” might think there could be a God someplace but that God just isn’t a big concern.

The other question raised by the survey results is the extent to which the rise of the Religious Right is causing the decline of Christianity overall. Retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong has been arguing for years that if fundamentalists are allowed to define Christianity and determine how the Bible is interpreted, it will eventually cause intelligent people to desert Christianity. And, according to Pew, the “nones” on average are better educated than the “remains.”

IMO Christianity has an image problem. For the past few decades, lazy or clueless media outlets, television producers in particular, have allowed only right-wing Christians to speak for Christianity in mass media. Much of this goes back to the 1970s and 1980s. Political operatives like Paul Weyrich recruited right-wing ministers like Jerry Falwell to help promote conservative causes. And the Right actively promoted its stable of “approved” Christian spokespeople to the television producers, so that when some talk show needed a guest to present the “Christian” or “religious” perspective, someone like Falwell would get the call.

This was never more obvious than during the Terri Sciavo circus, when it seemed all the bobblehead programs on all the networks exclusively booked right-wing Christian ministers to speak for “religion.” Per mass media, “religion” was opposed to taking Sciavo off life support.

But religion did not speak with one voice on this issue. Ministers, rabbis, theologians, etc., could have argued on well-founded religious grounds that removing the feeding tube was the moral thing to do, under the circumstances. And, in fact, many members of the clergy said this publicly. But from what I saw the television producers simply didn’t ask not-fundamentalist religious people into the studios.

It’s hardly surprising that Christianity is losing support, when its most visible public representatives are the likes of Mike Huckabee, Pat Robertson, and the Duck Dynasty guy.

It will be interesting to see if the popularity of Pope Francis bolsters American Catholicism. Long-term, we ought to be able to look forward to a more secular society. It’s also possible that major shifts in religious institutions could eventually lead to a kind of New Reformation; the old order will break up and be replaced by something else — hopefully something less stupid.

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Only the Shadow Knows, I Guess

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Obama Administration

Our intensive retreat ended yesterday, but now I have a nasty cold and don’t want to do anything. But I’ll write something.

Today’s buzz is about the new Sy Hersh book, which claims that the “official” story of how Osama bin Laden was found and killed is a cover up for another story, that some Pakistani officials arranged for bin Laden to be offed, and the whole story of the super secret dangerous special ops raid was just for show.

And I confess I haven’t read the Sy Hersh piece in the London Review of Books, mostly because I feel crappy. The basic theory is that because we don’t know absolutely everything about everything, with access to all evidence, there must be a cover up, and Hersh’s account seems compelling to some.  Glenn Greenwald, Marcy Wheeler and the FireDogLake crew have more or less embraced Hersh’s narrative. The crew at Vox say that Hersh’s book is riddled with inconsistencies, and its sourcing is more than flimsy. For what it’s worth, journalists and Middle East experts have expressed huge doubts about Hersh’s claims. I’ll let you guys make up your own minds about it.

The Hersh story poses some surprising difficulties for the Right.  Part of Hersh’s claim is that the “official narrative” was crafted to make it appear use of torture helped bring bin Laden down, when in fact Pakistan knew where he was all along and handed him up on a plate for some quid pro quo. So if they embrace Hersh’s story, the righties have to admit “enhanced interrogation” was useless.

However, I doubt many of them will spin their wheels over this point. Righties are champs at maintaining hugely contradictory beliefs. Who needs consistency? It will be no problem at all for them to believe that the Osama bin Laden raid was a fabrication, but even so the raid proved that torture works. But, frankly, I never bought the claim that the “official” raid story supports torture.

In other news: Somebody shot George Zimmerman. He doesn’t seem to be seriously injured.

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NSA Must Stay Off Your Phone

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Obama Administration

An appeals court today found the NSA phone surveillance program unconstitutional. Reactions across the political spectrum:

From liberals: Good. We’ve been against this ever since the Bushies started it.

From libertarians/Breitbrats: Good. We are winning against the evil Obama/liberal surveillance state.

From Republican hawks: Oh noes! Al Qaeda ISIS will kill us in our beds!

Usual bullshit, in other words.

FYI From Thursday evening until Sunday we’re going to be in lockdown meditate-till-you-drop mode here at the Zen Center, so I’m supposed to stay off the Internet and meditate and think not-thinking like a good zennie. I’ll pop in to clear the message queue when I can, but don’t blab.

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Not So Free in Muskogee

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Republican Party, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Gotta read this column by Thomas Edsall:

In the fall of 1969, Merle Haggard topped the Billboard country charts for four weeks with “Okie from Muskogee,” the song that quickly became the anthem of red America, even before we called it that.

“We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee, we don’t take our trips on LSD, we don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street, we like livin’ right and bein’ free,” Haggard declared. “We don’t make a party out of lovin’, we like holdin’ hands and pitchin’ woo.”

Times have changed.

Today Muskogee, Okla., a city of 38,863, has nine drug treatment centers and a court specifically devoted to drug offenders. A search for “methamphetamine arrest” on the website of the Muskogee Phoenix, the local newspaper, produces 316 hits.

In 2013 just under two-thirds of the births in the city of Muskogee, 62.6 percent, were to unwed mothers, including 48.3 percent of the births to white mothers. The teenage birthrate in Oklahoma was 47.3 per 1,000; in Muskogee, it’s 59.2, almost twice the national rate, which is 29.7.

Need I mention that Muskogee voters proudly vote Republican?

… the Baltimore riots have become a vehicle for conservatives to point to the city as an emblem of the failure of liberalism and the Democratic Party. The current state of affairs in Muskogee suggests that the left does not deserve exclusive credit for social disorder.

Rightie politicians and media have been crowing that Baltimore represents a failure of liberalism. I could link to umpteen hundred such rants, but here’s just one.

Jeb Bush says the strife in Baltimore proves the war on poverty “failed” to expand opportunity in America’s most disadvantaged communities. In a Chicago Tribune op-ed published Wednesday, the presumptive 2016 candidate writes that Democrats are wrongly responding to the unrest with calls to increase government spending and reform the criminal justice system.

And, of course, from a progressive perspective just the opposite happened; there’s no part of America untouched by Reaganism and right-wing anti-tax, trickle-down nonsense lo these past 30 plus years. See, for example, an in-depth report by Emily Badger in the Washington Post, “How Baltimore and cities like it hold back poor black children as they grow up.” There are places in the U.S. that are something like economic and social black holes, and it’s nearly impossible for people who grow up there to escape. Programs — you know, the government spending thing — that enable greater mobility actually appear to work. I suspect investing in better public schools and transportation systems wouldn’t hurt either, but of course conservatives hate public schools and transportation and fight spending on such things tooth and nail. And, dude, do you not see that the criminal justice system seriously needs reforming?

Edsall mentions this:

John Nolte, who writes for Breitbart.com, Tweeted at 9:26 p.m. on Monday, April 27, “Baltimore is what happens when you replace the two-parent family with a welfare check & union-run public schools.” An hour later, Laura Ingraham, a talk-show host, followed suit: “No fathers, no male role models, no discipline, no jobs, no values = no sense of right & wrong.”

I’ve yet to see evidence that breaking up teacher’s unions improves public schools, and if we want to talk about lacking a sense of right and wrong let’s talk about the police.

But what happened to Muskogee? Edsall presents copious data showing that while rates of out-of-wedlock births are slowing down among blacks they are speeding up among whites. Since 1980 the rate of out-of wedlock births has increased by 4 percent among blacks (and decreased in recent years) but has risen by 33 percent among whites. Further,

The highest rates of white teenage pregnancy in the 30 states with available data are in red states. While the national white teenage pregnancy rate in 2010 was 38 per 1,000, white rates were at least 10 points higher in nine states: Oklahoma (59), West Virginia (64), Arkansas (63), South Carolina (51), Alabama (49), Mississippi (55), Tennessee (51), Kentucky (59) and Louisiana (51). Each of these states cast decisive majorities for Romney in 2012.

The high pregnancy and birthrates among white teenagers in states where the Christian right and Tea Party forces are strong reflect the inability of ideological doctrines stressing social conservatism to halt the gradual shift away from traditional family structures.

In fact, the map in the second chart [see article] shows that the Southern Baptist Convention, one of the most socially conservative denominations in America, is dominant in every one of the nine states with the highest white teenage pregnancy rates, with the sole exception of West Virginia.

And on and on. The Red States really are going to hell in a handbasket.

Edsall points out that Republicans are in complete control in 24 states, and in most of those states the legislatures are waging all-out culture war. But they are so focused on blocking access to abortion and stopping same-sex marriage they are oblivious to the very real social and economic problems going on under their noses. Edsall again,

The problems of majority black Baltimore are extreme, but many of the trends found there are as extreme or more so in majority white Muskogee.

The Baltimore poverty rate is 23.8 percent, 8.4 points above the national rate, but below Muskogee’s 27.7 percent. The median household income in Baltimore is $41,385, $11,661 below the $53,046 national level, but $7,712 above Muskogee’s $33,664.

If conservatives place responsibility on liberal Democrats, feminism and the abandonment of traditional family values for Baltimore’s decay, what role did the 249 churches in and around Muskogee play in that city’s troubles?

Right-wing politicians have been given too big a pass for way too long.

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Bill de Blasio’s Crusade

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liberalism and progressivism

A profile of the New York mayor says he is working on a progressive Contract With America. Looking forward to that.

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Thank You, Alberta

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Canada

In a sign that maybe the world won’t go to hell in a handbasket just yet, a slate of liberal candidates just swept into office in Alberta, Canada. See:

In Blow to Tar Sands Industry, Liberal Party Sweeps Alberta Elections

Alberta, heart of Canada’s oil industry, elects socialist-leaning government

I don’t think this election will have any discernible impact on our XL Pipeline debate, unfortunately. We’ll see.

Pinch Me! Am I dreaming? Canada’s ‘Most Conservative’ Province Elects an NDP Majority

Notley’s campaign has made possible an Alberta that is more like the rest of Canada — more humane, more inclusive, more respectful, more democratic, and therefore more prone to healthy changes of government from time to time.

The hard work for the NDP will start today — or, at least, tomorrow, when the hangovers wear off.

Yes, Notley has an inexperienced caucus, some members of which never imagined they would be MLAs when they agreed to run. But, seriously people, how could they do worse than the experienced clowns that made up the last PC government?

Yes, once they recover from yesterday’s shock, the right-wing opposition will go wild. It is not unreasonable to assume that some elements of the business community will go as far as trying to sabotage the economy, as happened when Bob Rae was premier of Ontario.

Yes, the right-wing press will start by telling us immediately this election result really means Albertans want more conservatism, which it manifestly does not.

Yes, some of Notley’s strongest supporters will be disappointed and bitter when the realities of politics, which is the art of the possible after all, mean they cannot have their wish list instantly fulfilled.

And, yes, even though it’s springtime in Alberta, it’ll probably snow today.

Well, it’s still Canada.

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Self-Terrorism at Work

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Terrorism, Texas, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

ISIS may be evil and deranged, and they may lack any sort of capability of striking in the U.S., but I fear they have our number.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack outside a Prophet Mohammed cartoon contest in Texas — and warned of more attacks to come.

In a broadcast on its official radio channel Tuesday, the group said two Al Khilafa soldiers opened fire outside the event in Garland, a Dallas suburb. Al Khilafa is how ISIS refers to its soldiers.  …

…While ISIS claimed responsibility two days after the attack, there was no immediate indication that the terror group in Iraq and Syria had contact with Simpson or Soofi, who both lived in Phoenix.

Odds are the gunmen were wannabees with borderline personality disorder who had as much contact with ISIS as they had with Santa Claus, although the gunmen and ISIS operatives appeared to be following each other on Twitter. But we’re living in a country in which Wal-Mart has to refute rumors that the feds are building tunnels under closed stores to facilitate a military takeover of Texas. ISIS doesn’t have to lift a finger to scare Americans; we are champs at terrorizing ourselves. Claiming responsibility for the Texas shooting was actually brilliant on their part. The baggers will believe it and reach new heights of irrational paranoia.

Reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode where the townsfolk panic over rumors of space aliens and start shooting each other. The actual space aliens observe this and decide the easiest way to conquer Earth is to let the paranoid humans destroy themselves.

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